5 Ways to Be at Peace After a Cancer Diagnosis… When Healing Is a Full Time Job
Like most of the women reading Sixty and Me, I have always been the matriarch and doer. Looking back at my old journals reminded me I always used to have a million balls in the air, projects with the community and with my family.
For example, I worked full-time as a school principal with three of my own kids in three schools. My life was a whirlwind of activity. Also, I sang in the Temple Choir, played music at Sunday School, and there always was a football game, birthday party or Bar Mitzvah to attend! I loved that life!
When the kids were grown, and none were in the house, things slowed down a bit. Although I stopped long commutes, I never stopped working. Then came the cancer.
Healing My Cancer Is Now My Full Time Job
Cancer quickly moves to the top of the priority list. Now, my health must be the first and foremost. I am lucky when it does put up a big fight for its privileged place – meaning, the days when I feel so miserable I can think of nothing else.
The big question for everyone faced with such a drastic life change is, how to do it? There are some things we must address in ourselves to be at peace in the process:
Throw the Guilt Out the Window
There is no point to be hard on yourself about your body screaming for some attention. Suddenly, parts of it are ruling the day. My chemo treatment was delayed for a week due to low platelets. Platelets are crucial in causing blood to clot. I had never even spent a half-second considering my platelets.
What to do? Nothing. Rest, rest, rest. If I do not get the platelet count… no chemo. No sense feeling guilty about lying around. That is my new job.
Make the Time Needed – You Have It
Shortly after chemo treatments, you find yourself with nothing but time. Suddenly, the day stretches ahead. What is on the calendar?
Take a short walk, lay down. Eat, although you don’t feel like it, then lay down. Sit and do a puzzle for a little while, then lay down. Drink all the water needed to flush your system, take your pills on time, wash your hands for 20 seconds each time you go to the bathroom.
Maybe you can write a thank you note and pay a bill. Watch some great show on Netflix. If you manage all of that, you have done a good job. Allow yourself the same pride of accomplishment as a good day at work.
Ask for Help and Accept It
During the harder moments, you need help. I faced some dilemmas about food. Neither my husband nor I have ever been great cooks. At first, people were bringing so much delicious food, we could not eat it all. My niece even offered to set up a system.
Technology makes it easy for friends who don’t even know each other to just sign up for a day to bring you dinner. We did not want to bother anyone. My cousin offered to pay for a meal delivery system – the new rage in our area – and we are getting four meals a week. It is wonderful and delicious.
This much help I could accept. I really loved the Jin Shin treatment, a healing bodywork activity given by a nurse who is learning about the treatment and was happy to do it for me.
There are also some amazing generous people offering all kinds of help during chemo. For instance, this non-profit organizes house-cleaning http://cleaningforareason.org.
Make Wise Choices
Sometimes you are faced with health choices. For me, so far, it has been minor decisions about my health.
Before my diagnosis, I was taking zero pills. I have always avoided medication. Now I have a bunch by my bedside. Some give me a choice – take when needed. So, I decided not to wait until I am greatly nauseated to take the meds.
Also, I was having trouble sleeping through the night, and meditation and yoga didn’t seem to help, so I decided to start taking a sleeping pill. This is a short-term decision, but weighing the options, I needed my full night’s sleep and not the anxiety of lying awake at night during this hard time.
I don’t plan to do it forever, though. I will rethink it at the end of my intense chemo cycles.
Find Your Inner Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is so important during this hard time. We spend years pushing ourselves, blaming ourselves for our large and small errors and feeling selfish when we put ourselves first. In the 13th century, Rumi, a Persian poet, understood the power of self-compassion:
I must have been incredibly simple or drunk or insane
to sneak into my own house and steal money,
to climb over my own fence and take my own vegetables.
But no more. I have gotten free of that ignorant fist
that was pinching and twisting my secret self.
The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
I am the crescent moon put up
over the gate to the festival.
This moment is a special time that you can draw on to change all that self-blame to self-compassion. Don’t worry, self-compassion does not lead to selfishness, it leads to increased compassion for everyone around you.
This new way of being can be the small gift, the take-away from “your new job,” be it healing from cancer or any other serious health condition.
Are you working on staying healthy after the diagnosis of a serious health condition? Please share your story and experiences to help other women on their healing journey.
Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D works as an independent consultant to schools and organizations with over 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director, and superintendent in public education in California. With Dr. Dorothy Steele, she co-authored the book, Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn. Becki and her husband Rito are also working to develop an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest. They live in El Sobrante, California, and have three adult children.